Reply to the British ship Serapis. The exact wording of his reply is
uncertain, and several accounts exist. The standard version above is from an
account of the engagement by one of Jones’ officers, First Lieutenant
Richard Dale.—John Henry Sherburne, The Life and Character of John Paul
Jones, 2d ed., p. 121 (1851).
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September 23, 1779
John Paul Jones
American naval hero. Born near Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His name was
originally just John Paul. John Paul went to sea when he was only 12. He was
chief mate on a slave ship in 1766 but, disgusted with the work, soon quit.
In 1769 he obtained command of the John, a merchantman that he captained
until 1770. In 1773, while Jones was in command of the Betsy off Tobago,
members of his crew mutinied and he killed a sailor in self-defense. To
avoid trial he fled. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia, with the Jones added to
his name, he obtained for him a commission in the Continental navy. In 1777,
Jones was given command of the Ranger. He sailed to France, then daringly
took the war to the shores of the British Isles on raids. In 1778, he
captured the Drake, a British warship. It was, however, only after long
delay that he was given another ship, an old French merchantman, which he
rebuilt and named the Bon Homme Richard (“Poor Richard”), to honor Benjamin
Franklin. He set out with a small fleet but was disappointed in the hope of
meeting a British fleet. On Sept. 23, 1779, he did encounter the British
merchantmen, convoyed by the frigate Serapis and a smaller warship. The
battle, which lasted three and a half hours, was one of the most memorable
in naval history. Jones sailed close in, to cut the advantage of the Serapis,
and finally in the battle lashed the Bon Homme Richard to the British ship.
Both ships were heavily damaged. The Serapis was afire in at least 12
different places. The hull of the Bon Homme Richard was pierced, her decks
were ripped, her hold was filling with water, and fires were destroying her,
unchecked; yet when the British captain asked if Jones was ready to
surrender, the answer came proudly, “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight.”
When the Serapis surrendered, Jones and his men boarded her while his own
vessel sank. He was much honored in France for the victory but received
little recognition in the United States.